LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - The Arkansas Department of Health is warning Arkansans to protect their pets, as the number of rabid animals in the area appears to be increasing.

Most recently, state health authorities have foundthree rabid skunks near Maumelle in Pulaski County since January.

In all of 2012, there were 131 confirmed rabies cases in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Dept. of Health website. As of April 11, 2013, there have been65 confirmed cases in The Natural State, with 61 of those being in skunks.

Dr. Susan Weinstein, the state's public health veterinarian, said no ground-living animals have contracted rabies in Pulaski County since 1980.

"Every year, we have a bat or two or some years more than that," Weinstein explained. "So, we know we have rabies in our bats, but we have not worried about our land animals, are terrestrial animals for a long time."

She warns that any skunk seen in the open during the day is likely to be rabid.

"We do see raccoons during the day occasionally and we don't see any real significance, but a skunk during the day does (cause alarm)," Weinstein said. "They are a nocturnal animal, they are not normally active in daytime and generally speaking that's very unusual behavior."

State law requires all dogs and cats in Arkansas to be vaccinated against rabies by a licensed veterinarian.
Weinstein says the vaccine acts as a barrier between exposed animals in the wild and people.
"You can get a vaccine that will last 3 years. If there is an exposure to your animal you get a booster right away, but the vaccines work very very well and really do protect the animal."
Weinstein believes the uptick in area rabies cases is just nature at work, stating that nearby counties are also seeing a spread of the disease. Through mid-April of 2013, Arkansas has had 58 skunks test positive for rabies.

"We know that it (rabies) is moving in from the north and west and moving into that part of our county, because we had some rabid skunks in an area in Faulkner County, that we've not had previously," said Weinstein.

The rabies virus, which lives in the saliva and nervous system tissue of infected animals, can be deadly as it attacks the brain and spinal cord.

The virus is spread when the animal bites or scratches another animal or person. The health department says if you come in contact or suspect a skunk is rabid, contact the nearest animal control.

For a map of where rabid animals have been found in Arkansas, click here.

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